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Boston Celtics fail to cash in assets to move up in NBA Draft

This probably wasn't the plan Danny Ainge had in mind for draft night.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

I had one prediction heading into Thursday night's NBA Draft: there was no way that the Boston Celtics were going to walk out of the Barclays Center having drafted four rookies.

So much for that.

The Celtics came into the draft armed with a pair of picks in each round, plus a war chest of future draft picks and young cost-controlled assets. Danny Ainge had been vocal all week about his desire to assemble a package to move up in the draft, which would have given the Celtics the best of both worlds in giving their young core a taste of playoff action while still finding an impact player in the lottery.

Ainge worked aggressively to move up the board numerous times, including a spirited effort that came down to the wire to move into Charlotte's No. 9 spot. Boston had hoped to capitalize on Duke's Justice Winslow's slide, but the Hornetsasking price proved to be too high.

"We tried hard to move up," Ainge told reporters late last night. "We spent the last couple weeks trying to move and, really, today was the only time that we had any indication that we could move up. But we were trying.

"At the end of the day, it's like Red [Auerbach] used to say, 'Sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don't make.' Maybe we were going too hard at it. There was a time when I thought, 'Whoa, this is getting a little out of control.' We're putting a lot of eggs in one young player's basket. So i'm not frustrated. In the long run, maybe it'll be the best."

It's hard to believe Ainge isn't at least a bit frustrated, while Celtics fans came away disappointed after letting their expectations soar from the bounty of possibilities seemingly in front of them. It's unclear what teams like the Hornets turned down, but we can expect it included multiple first-round picks, and potentially as many as three.

Three first-rounders to move up 7 spots is a steep price, but you can argue that it would have been one worth paying. Especially when it would have given Boston the chance to take a player the caliber of Winslow, who many projected to go higher in the lottery and could have the star potential the Celtics crave.

While Ainge may be trying to rationalize his decision, to himself and to Celtics fans, he woke the morning after confident that he made the right decision.

"In hindsight, the next day, it's probably a good thing. We were probably going to spend too much to do what we needed to do," Ainge said told the Toucher and Rich radio show on 98.5 Friday morning. "This morning I woke up, and I'm refreshed that we got guys that we like, but also that we didn't overspend for some of the players that were in the draft - actually basically one player we were chasing that we thought we had a realistic shot at."

That player presumably was Winslow. The Celtics could have had him, but balked at the asking price. Even if it would be considered an overpay, so what? Boston has plenty of assets, with more draft picks than they'll likely have open roster spots. Overpaying to get a player with star upside seems better than hoarding a collection of role players, which this roster is already littered with. Unless Charlotte was demanding those juicy Brooklyn picks that Celtics fans are salivating over, what's the harm in trading some non-lottery picks to get the guy they really wanted?

Instead, Ainge is left to try to justify his choices by insisting that it was other teams, not him, that made the mistake.

"They [the future picks] are worth a lot, [but] I think the draft is probably the time where they're least valuable, simply because people get so caught up in players. Without mentioning names, there are some players that were drafted in certain spots [by teams] that turned down lots of draft picks that I just don't think was smart on their part," Ainge explained. "On draft day, typically those are hard deals to move. People got so caught up and get so in love with a specific player that that player in their minds becomes bigger than life."

Ainge doesn't have to let names slip for us to know he's referring to the Hornets and their selection of Frank Kaminsky, who Michael Jordan was clearly enamored with, even if scouts were torn. If Kaminsky becomes a bust, Ainge will have been proven right that the Hornets should have taken what they had to offer. On the other hand, if Winslow becomes a star, perhaps their best option would have been to reject Boston's offer and take him instead. Time will tell.

Regardless, Boston was stuck with the picks that they entered with. With all of Ainge's preferred plans out the window, he resorted to taking who he believed was the best player available at No. 16 in point guard Terry Rozier, whose scouting report makes him sound like a poor man's Marcus Smart.

Now the Celtics are left with an overcrowded backcourt and a few late selections that may end up being wasted if they don't make the team. Ainge's job now shifts to sorting out an unbalanced roster, while still searching for ways to upgrade the team's talent. He will likely target big men in free agency, where he'll find several appealing options available, and the trade route is still an option. The problem with that is he may run into the same issues that he had on draft night, where it proves difficult to find anyone willing to take what he has to offer.

The summer is far from over and there are still plenty of ways that the Celtics can make a splash. Plan A may not have worked out exactly as we had hoped, but when one door closes, another one opens. Let's see what else Ainge has up his sleeve before we condemn this offseason as a failure.

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